Elite AgentOPINION

Samantha McLean on the best (and worst) advice she’s ever received

In the past few months, I’ve been asked a fair bit for the best (and worst!) advice I’ve been given throughout my career.

I must be getting to a certain age, but I am at the same time trying to be flattered that people are curious enough to ask.

The worst advice is easy

I remember talking to a well-known PR person in the industry about an article she had ghost-written for a high-profile leader.

The piece started well, but it felt like someone had just gotten sick of writing, and it ended quite abruptly.

I called her and told her it wasn’t up to scratch – as far as our editorial guidelines were concerned, and she would need to rework it a bit.

She felt that I should just finish it myself, and her advice to me was that I should just “lower my standards” (quote/unquote!)

In this particular case of ego vs ego, it was pretty clear there would be no winners that day, but I would still say that lowering your standards to please someone else is not a good way to go!

The best advice is more complex because, at different times in your career or life journey, you need different advice, depending on your circumstances.

So to end the year, here are some of my favourites and how you can adapt them to your world.

Above the line

The best piece of advice I ever had came at the worst time in my career. It was about staying ‘above the line’.

The line is an imaginary chin-up bar with the words ownership, accountability and responsibility on top of it and blame, excuses and denial underneath it.

At the time, I had been busy blaming someone else for the predicament I was in and making all sorts of excuses as to why I couldn’t do big things without help.

That one piece of advice made me see I was in control of my situation, but I was looking at it all wrong.

If everything is my fault (and seriously, it is), then I can change it.

I still regularly check myself to see if I’m above the line or below it; and if I’m below it, a mental chin-up needs to happen.

Where are you in relation to your own line?

Tilting not juggling

I’ve learnt that women that say they have it all usually don’t because we are always trading one thing off for another.

I used to think I was a master at multitasking. I even had it on my LinkedIn profile as a skill.

But I’ve since learnt that multitasking or juggling is actually not terribly productive. Everything takes longer – and nothing gets the total attention it should.

The better option is to tilt one way before leaning another, depending on where you’re most needed.

Tilting sounds more in control and less off balance – it’s also above the line when you think about it – you’re making choices rather than spinning plates.

What do you need to tilt towards; is it family, self-care, goal-setting or something else?

Take a step

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

That Martin Luther King Jr quote perfectly summarises how we got here with Elite Agent. It is especially true when you’re starting anything new or different – often, what intimidates us is not being able to see the end, so we don’t start.

Instead, write your steps down on Post-it Notes and focus on doing one thing at a time.

All the steps add up; at least, they have done for me.

What’s something you really want? Can you write down what the first step would be and create some action?

Manage energy, not time

Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day that Beyonce has.

But those hours are not created equal.

I’m a morning person, and my creative output in the early hours is probably double what it is after 3pm.

So I’ve learnt to schedule my most important work early, and then other things come after that.

When are you the most creative, and what is the most important work you could schedule during that time?

Time off is productive

Speaking of which, I am convinced time off is absolutely a dollar-productive activity.

It’s also very different to wasting time on jobs below your pay grade or scrolling Facebook when you should be working.

We’ve all had that moment where we’ve been sitting by a pool, cocktail in hand and had the best idea of our whole lives.

It’s because innovative ideas and new systems don’t come when you’re under stress.

They usually come when you switch off and have the breathing space to reflect and plan.

So, as 2023 gathers speed stay above the line, focus on what’s important, and we will see you at the end.

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.